Environmental groups wary of water law changes

The Kickemuit River at sunrise. The Kickemuit River at sunrise.

The Kickemuit River at sunrise.

The Kickemuit River at sunrise.

The Kickemuit River Council and Save Bristol Harbor, along with the Town of Bristol, are voicing concerns about a plan by the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) to modify a list of applications which can be approved by the agency through administrative review, a form of review that requires a lower degree of public involvement than is required for many applications.

Several types of applications which would be added to an existing list of those eligible for administrative review include those seeking to install residential docks up to 75 feet in many areas, beach nourishment projects, limited marinas, DOT road and bridge projects, habitat restoration projects undertaken by or in partnership with public entities, and dredge material disposal projects. A public hearing on the proposed changes is scheduled for next Tuesday, Jan. 14.

The CRMC’s Laura Dwyer said this week that the changes are being made to streamline the agency’s approval process for “routine” activities that would otherwise be unnecessarily drawn out; “it does not mean” that the CRMC is attempting to keep the public out of the loop, she said.

Still, some worry. Ann Morrill, the first vice president of the Kickemuit River Council, said she is very concerned that the public’s right to know what is going on or near the water could be jeopardized.

“We don’t think it’s good to take away the public’s right to object and have input into decision-making when it involves so many important things,” she said.

Ms. Morrill wrote a letter to the Warren Times Gazette editor last month in which she questioned the changes and invited readers to speak out about them. In response, the CRMC Deputy Director Jeff Willis responded in writing to the KRC, saying the proposed changes are not as onerous as Ms. Morrill alleged.

“Each of these activities is put out for a 30-day Public Notice and all public comment and input is made part of the record for review,” he wrote.

His response prompted another letter from KRC, in which special projects coordinator Linda Brunini highlighted concerns that the types of activities noted, and the degree to which the public is to be informed of them, is too vague.”

“We feel that wording used in your notice is too vague and too broad and that it requires clarification by the CRMC to define precisely to what degree the general public, be it individual or group, professional or non-profit, local town, or other leadership, will be represented and be allowed to give input and consideration before administrative assents can be made regarding the items on this notice. “

Ms. Morrill said this week that the timing of the proposed changes is particularly troubling, as they are being proposed while many residents with property near the water are away for the winter.

“We’re asking that (a hearing) be delayed” so people who are away can ask questions, she said.

Of particular concern to KRC members is the inclusion of limited marinas. The organization spent years fighting a small commercial dock on the upper Kickemuit that had been approved by administrative assent.

“Let us not forget that it was an administrative assent that gave authority to change a residential dock to a commercial marina in the Kickemuit River which was costly for both the CRMC, the KRC, and the property owner to satisfactorily resolve and return this dock to a limited residential” use, Ms. Brunini wrote.

The river council is not the only organization without questions about the proposed changes. Save Bristol Harbor has expressed concerns, as has Bristol Town Administrator Tony Teixeira. He wrote a letter of objection to the CRMC on Friday, Jan. 2.

“The worry is that (if the changes go through) the state will be able to make decisions arbitrarily, without checking with the communities that would be impacted,” he said. “That is our major concern. We need to make sure we are knowledgeable with what happens within our borders.”

Note: To read the proposed CRMC changes, click here:

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